1. MouseMonsanta
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    MouseMonsanta New Member

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    Knowing exactly what novel you want to write, but having no idea how to write it

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MouseMonsanta, Aug 29, 2016.

    Hello

    I've been through some strange times in these last two years, a potent cocktail of hedonism, asceticism, abundance and self deprecation have allowed me to make some particularly weird neural connections that I'm all but certain would translate into a great novel. The problem is, while I know exactly what I want to achieve with it, what message I want to send, everything else has me completely stumped. Light bulb moments gave birth to the ideas for pivotal scenes that I think can be incredibly powerful, to the point where I'm convinced it may be my calling in life to write them. But I have no idea how to write any of the story that comes before, after or in between them. I have a solid idea of who the two main characters are, and what they represent, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to make them interact with each other, or anybody else. Really I can't quite figure out how to even create any of the other characters. Everything I have so far just popped into my head effortlessly, everything that remains is incredibly elusive.

    Has anyone else struggled with a similar problem?
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'd advise you to write one of those pivotal scenes you've envisioned. Then back up a bit. What got the characters to that point? Figure that out, write what happened before (don't do it in chronological order, if that's not the way it comes to you.)

    Keep writing pivotal scenes until you know what you've got. This might be a lot different from what you expect at the moment. Once a clear picture forms, then you can write the transitional scenes, plug any plot holes that appear, etc, and shape your story.

    I'd advise you to stop thinking about it, and start actually writing. You'll be amazed at how things come together when you've got stuff on the page in front of you. However, if you don't know where to begin, just begin somewhere. Don't worry about getting the reader up to speed or explaining anything. Just write what you see and hear. Write the scene that seems the most vivid to you. Never mind if it's the middle of your story, or even the end. Just get it written, and build both ends, if necessary.
     
  3. Dr. Mambo
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    Dr. Mambo Active Member

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    The more I plan a story ahead of time, the harder it is for me to actually write it. It's just not how my brain works. Maybe you're experiencing the same thing? I'm going to echo what jannert said and advise starting with a scene you've got figured out. Write that or start writing about one of your characters and see what happens.
     
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  4. MouseMonsanta
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    MouseMonsanta New Member

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    Thank you. You're probably right.

    Though I wonder, how intense do you get with writing a first draft? Do you even think about making it "good", or do you just get the skeletal sequence of events down first and edit the hell out of it later?
     
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  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You won't know until you start to write and see what comes out. I spit my first draft out in a month, no worries what it read like, the idea was to get the story out. Now I'm working on making it good.

    But other people write more methodically.

    I agree with @jannert, write a scene, see where it goes.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You're not writing an outline here. Forget skeletal sequences of events, etc. That's just planning, list making. You're not planning any more. You're writing an actual scene. Complete scene, with dialogue (if appropriate), feelings, actions, consequences, setting details (as appropriate) etc. Exactly as you envision it. Forget how you got there. Just dive straight in, become your POV character, and write that scene.

    But you write it to please yourself. Don't put ANY brakes on it. Don't say 'oh, I wonder if that phrase is right,' or 'oh, I wonder if my grannie would hate me if she reads this' or 'oh, I wonder if this will sell.' Just write what YOU want to write. The way that sounds best to you.

    I totally agree with @GingerCoffee . The first draft is simply to get your story out there. Not out there for other people to see, but out there for you to see. Do not make the mistake of showing your starting scenes to other people for 'review.' I know it's tempting, but just don't. That is fine later on, once you've done your first draft, gone through and made the changes you want to make. THEN show it to other people and get feedback. But not now.

    In fact, tell yourself that NOBODY else will see anything you write until you've got it done. You don't want the weight of other people's expectations on your shoulders, or constant questions. Is it done yet? Can I read it now? When are you getting published? Why is it taking so long? Etc. In fact, don't tell anybody that you're writing at all, unless you live with them and need them to know what you're doing closeted away for hours. Or that they must leave you in peace to get on with it.

    You can use a little trick I used myself, though. Pretend you are telling your story to some particular friend or sibling that you know. Somebody who likes you, likes what you do, and will not only be supportive but will be enthralled by what they're 'hearing.' Sometimes that makes it easier for you to write a real story. Don't write to please the teacher. Write to please your friend.

    You might find that you unexpectedly dislike your POV character. Or that you have real anger about certain issues contained in your story. Or that you have a real desire to change something about the world. Or there is grief buried deep inside you that suddenly 'gets out' and is genuine. Or that you can express love on paper through your characters, when you can't really do it in real life. Make this first attempt at a first draft a real emotional experience for you. Write what really matters to you. Forget the form, word choice, etc. That can be refined later. The important thing here is to get started and see what you've got.

    I think after you've written one book and start another, then this process can calm down a bit. Whether you lose something by calming down is not clear, but you'll know you CAN write. When you start out, though, you're starting cold and you don't know what's in you. This is when you find out.
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2016
  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not clear whether you have any prior writing experience. If not, you may need to accept that you're going to have to spend some time learning how to write. You've got a story, and that's good, but it's far from all there is to worry about.

    How you learn how to write? There are loads of different approaches. It's certainly possible to learn on one MS, but you'll have to be prepared to go back and do some serious rewriting by the end of things.
     
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  8. WingDingGaster
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    WingDingGaster Member

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    I was going to make a thread just like this, until I found this one.

    How do you plan out a story, or writing in general? The most I can ever do is "pants" a scene or two if inspiration hits, or profile a character who captures my attention. Even if I want to weave them into a coherent story, I never know how. As someone with no real writing experience, who would like to finally start, it leaves me a bit lost.
     
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  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    If you can pants a scene or two, then that's where you start. That's Part A. Write the scene. Look closely at what you've written. How did the characters get to what they're doing in that particular scene? Go back and write that bit into another scene that happens previously. And etc.

    However, make sure that what you're writing are actually scenes, not just a few notes about what you want the scenes to contain, or character sketches. Get right into these scenes and make them as full-on as possible. Make them come alive, as if they are short stories in themselves. It should be enough to get you started.

    Then comes part B. You need to think about what you've got and MAKE it work as a novel. Don't be tempted to abandon your efforts if you get stuck. Work your way out of 'stuck.' That's what all writers need to do at some point. You don't need to write all the time—in fact, thinking time is just as important as the actual writing—but you need to beaver away at what you've started until it's finished. Don't allow yourself to get distracted by something else, or give up because the answers don't come instantly. Keep at it, and things will start to gel.
     
  10. Dr. Mambo
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    Dr. Mambo Active Member

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    There's no real "how" to writing--at least not one that applies to everyone. You just do it. And the only way to get better is to practice.

    Figure out your style. What's easy? What feels natural? Maybe it's writing the big scenes first, or maybe it's starting at the end and working your way back to the beginning later. Maybe it's just writing about a character and forgetting all the plot points you started with. Or maybe you need to plot the whole thing so you can stay focused. If it feels like you're pulling teeth, then you probably need to try a different approach. I know I can't plot too much or I'll completely sabotage myself (and the story in the process).

    Another tip: To get back into the writing mindset, I've always found it helpful to read what I wrote the day before, edit that as I go, and then jump in right where I left off.
     
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  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, everybody's working method is different. I can tell you, from my own experience, that even a developed working method can change. I pantsed my first novel. However, because my second novel is a sequel to the first one, I have a strong idea of what I want to accomplish, and no longer have the freedom I had when writing the first. I'm using some of the same characters from the first, and the second novel is based on what happened in the first one. I can no longer go in any old direction I want. I've laid the foundation, and I can't change any of it now. So this is forcing me to plan, and stick to my plan. Not a bad experience—but quite different.

    There are people on the forum—and on this thread—who want to be writers but who haven't actually started writing. They have planned their stories in great detail, but are unsure of what happens next. If you're at that stage, a push is definitely what you need. Sooner or later, you actually have to write. And sometimes that's easier if you just plunge in, and write your best scene first.
     
  12. Brindy
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    Brindy Contributing Member Supporter

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    This will be my new writer's mantra. It's going to happen, your story gets stuck along the way. It has taken me days, sometimes weeks, to find the solution and it is tempting to put it down and forget it. Finding the solution is a real buzz and I find the writing flows for sometime afterwards. Once I was so hung up on getting a plot line included but felt it jarred with the surrounding story. I pondered for weeks how to solve it, set about writing it several times and literally screwed up sheets of paper and threw them on the ground (just like they do in movies). Then I finally realised what was wrong and cut the plot line altogether. It jarred because it didn't belong. This had been part of my outline from day one and I had to get rid.
     
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  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It's funny how 'wrongness' niggles away at you, isn't it? Even bits I thought were okay when I wrote them sometimes niggle afterwards. That's called instinct, and your instinct will be right nearly 100% of the time. Sooner or later, what you've done wrong will become clear.

    That's another reason why I feel it's so important not to rush to publication. Unless there is an actual deadline set by an agent or publisher, let stuff sit a good long while. It won't get hurt by sitting, but the wait gives time for niggles to be acknowledged and sorted.
     
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  14. WingDingGaster
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    WingDingGaster Member

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    As one such person, I banged out about 1200 words yesterday and was so damn proud of myself. They're not particularly pivotal - more fleshing out character, backstory, the world this is set in. But it really does make one want to write more.
     
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  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's great, but is what you wrote an actual scene in your story? A part you intend to include (uncut and un-expanded) in your final version? That doesn't mean you can't change it, BTW, but try to write as finished a scene as you can. Dive right in, and write a couple of actual scenes that you actually intend to use, as written. It's the only way I can think of to shake off the 'planning' dust and find your writing voice.
     
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  16. Persephone in Ireland
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    Persephone in Ireland New Member

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    Hello writers I'm new here, but I just wanted to say how much reading this one thread is helping me as I prepare to start writing my first book (- oh dear that makes it sounds even more momentous/ unapproachable !). My book isn't a novel but a non-fiction book about an illusive figure in Celtic mythology, and I have been researching thoroughly for over 3 years. I feel I need to start writing it, but 'how to start' is really holding me back. Reading the advice of other writers here is such a help, thank you.
     
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  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That sounds incredibly interesting, actually. Are you planning to do it in 'novel' style, filling in the details nobody will ever know, or is it a scholarly book containing only what you've researched?

    It might help if you can personalise your reader before you start. Ask yourself: what kind of person will want to read my book? What do I want to say to them? Then pretend you're writing the book for them. Is it a child? An adult person who loves Celtic fantasy and you want to show them the 'reality' behind Celtic fantasy? Is it a scholarly person who is looking for concrete information about an illusive legend? Is it a person who loves to read historical fiction?

    If you can identify your target audience, you will probably find it easier to start writing for them.
     
  18. ToBeInspired
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    ToBeInspired Contributing Member

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    Honestly? Some of my best ideas have come from some of my most fucked up situations I've been through. It was just hard to start writing about them when I still felt like shit.

    Put it all down in Google Drive, come back to it later, and I start writing like a madman. Sometimes it takes a different perspective, but it can still be yours alone.
     
  19. MouseMonsanta
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    MouseMonsanta New Member

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    Thanks a lot for the advice everyone. You're all totally right, just sitting down and concentrating your effort makes everything flow very naturally. I'm even finding that writing dialogue, one of the most intimidating things for me is not actually as difficult as I thought it was, its really just a matter of overcoming the insecurity.

    Something I'm also finding helpful is to scroll through chat logs I have with people and look for bits of conversation that stand out, and try to insert a dramatized version of them into my writings. Sometimes the connections you make can give birth to new personality traits for characters, or even entirely new ones. It's actually really convenient that nothing on the internet goes away, it's pretty fun constructing a character out of all the ignorant shit I used to think and say
     
  20. Persephone in Ireland
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    Persephone in Ireland New Member

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    Thank you Jannert, yes I definitely need to pin down my audience, rather than thinking 'this will appeal to all sorts of people'. I hope it will be of some academic interest as I think I am pretty up to speed with the academic touch stones of my research, but it is truly aimed at the general reader and will not be at all dense like an academic book. It is true though that to realise the right tone of writing I need to shake off the 'academic voice' of the articles and books I have been researching. Rather than present research with meticulous referencing I would like to write in a way which is exciting and seduces the reader in, as I was seduced into researching this by following a trail of clues. I would like my own journey of discovery and excitement to come through somehow, and I have read that 'creative non-fiction' can mean putting yourself into the writing, so perhaps I will try that. I feel this could be of interest to 'new-age' or neopagan readers but part of me has been wondering whether there is a second book which should come after this one; going deeper into the new-age side of my journey with this legend...
    No I don't plan to write it as a novel/ story book although part one will be an overview of the mythology. Part two will focus on the geography of the myth (putting her on the map) which is where I have uncovered something exciting (!) and part three is an exploration of the symbolism/ possible meanings of the myth. This is pretty much as far as I have gone right now; finding a structure which seems to fit what I want to say.
    I will definitely think more about the reader and put down on paper some of the possible readers I have in mind, in order to find the door into my writing... I hope you are right that then I may 'find it easier to start writing' ! :)
     
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  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Shaking off my academic training was the hardest part of creative writing for me. That, despite being a voracious reader of fiction all my life, and the fact that my academic training WAS in fiction. (I was an English major.)

    It will probably be even more difficult for you, as you are actually writing an 'academic' book, in the sense that you are not making any of it up, but are writing what I call a 'collecting' sort of historical book. You're writing a book that collects known information and presents it to make certain points about the events. (This is opposed to a primary source book which discovers new information and presents it to the world for the first time.)

    Again, I believe focusing on your reader will help you. But—it's not a matter of figuring out what 'kind' of reader you want. It's creating a specific reader. Make it somebody you actually know. Who, in your present circle of acquaintance, would you most like to impress with this book? Who do you most want to enjoy your book? Envision yourself telling your book to THAT single person, and it will help immensely.

    Caution: don't pick somebody you NEED to impress, though. This person might be too critical inside your head, and will hold you back. No. Pick somebody you know will be delighted with your book, once you get it done.

    There is one pitfall, though, and I fell into it at first. I chose my younger sister as my 'person' because when we were children I used to make up stories and tell them to her. She was hooked to the extent that she often used to wake me up at night and beg for new intallments! So she was the person I naturally gravitated towards, when 'telling' my new story as I wrote it.

    However, because we were children when we did this, and now live in different countries and don't see each other much any more, I ended up 'telling it to her' as if she were still that child, who used to get me out of bed in the middle of the night. And the story is not a children's story at all, so the tone turned out to be more immature than I wanted. :eek: When I got finished and realised the problem, I had to go through and change the tone throughout. It was a learning exercise for me. Pick your imaginary reader as an adult, not as a child, unless you specifically want to write for children.

    She did end up reading my story and did love it, so I guess I was right to pick her! :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2016

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